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'Firewall': Only a Facsimile of a Successful Thriller

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Like gardeners keeping a fond eye out for the first blooms of spring, film critics are always eager for the year's first major Hollywood film, the one with the star big enough to plaster on bus stops all over town.

This year that would be Harrison Ford in Firewall. Los Angeles Times and MORNING EDITION critic Kenneth Turan has this review.

Mr. KENNETH TURAN reporting:

Firewall, named after a barrier that protects computers from hackers, is only a facsimile of a successful thriller. It's set in the hyper-modern world of computer thievery, but its plot outline and script are distressingly familiar.

What we have here is an old-fashioned, not always convincing B picture, with A- list stars. Those B's were often known for their professionalism, and this film, which stars Virginia Madsen, Paul Bettany and Harrison Ford, demonstrates that as well.

(Soundbite of Firewall)

Mr. HARRISON FORD: (As Jack Stanfield) What is this?

Unidentified Child: Daddy!

Mr. FORD: Why have you done this, for God's sake? They're children.

Unidentified Child: Daddy!

Mr. FORD: I want to know what you want. And I want to know now.

Mr. TURAN: Filmmaker Richard Loncraine has nearly 40 years of directing to his credit, but there's only so much that can be done with this film's increasingly muddled scenario.

Ford plays Jack Stanfield, for 20 years the computer security specialist for a fictional Seattle bank. It's not the best of times for our Jack, even in the early going. His outfit is about to be acquired by a financial giant, and he is not happy about it.

As Firewall progresses, Jack gets more and more exasperated, irritated and distraught. This is largely due to the multiple perils the script places him in. But it's hard not to wonder if the film itself didn't start to get on his nerves. Fortunately, Jack has the love and support of a truly generic family, predictable down to a pair of bickering kids and a cute dog named Rusty.

Madsen does as much as anyone could to humanize wife Beth, an architect and a homemaker, but even she and Ford can only accomplish so much. Doing much better is Paul Bettany, who plays the villainous Bill Cox. A well-mannered psychotic, Bill is in charge of the criminal gang that takes Jack's wife and family hostage. Plus, he gets to say snarky things like, Don't imagine for one second I just blundered in out of the rain.

Once Bill reveals his nefarious criminal scheme, it is up to Jack to execute it, or Bill and company will execute his family.

(Soundbite of Firewall)

Mr. PAUL BETTANY: (As Bill Cox) This is the real vote, isn't it, Jack? Binary code. Virtual money. Tell me, how can it be stealing if you can't even touch it?

Mr. FORD: That's it. This is your plan? You think your schoolboy techie friend can hack into these servers? This is what you kidnapped my family for?

Mr. BETTANY: I don't need to hack into anything. We're already inside; all we need to do is plug in.

Mr. FORD: That's a good plan.

Mr. BETTANY: Thanks, we like it.

Mr. TURAN: The resulting cat-and-mouse game is diverting at times, but once Jack goes all Charles Bronson on everyone, this over-plotted and underwritten film loses its tenuous plausibility.

It's always satisfying to see Harrison Ford stand up for all that's decent and right, but it's hard not to wish he didn't wait for a better film to do it in.

MONTAGNE: Kenneth Turan is a film critic for MORNING EDITION and the Los Angeles Times. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kenneth Turan
Kenneth Turan is the film critic for the Los Angeles Times and NPR's Morning Edition, as well as the director of the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes. He has been a staff writer for the Washington Post and TV Guide, and served as the Times' book review editor.